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Deep Learning Helps Explore the Structural and Strategic Bases of Autism
Psychiatrists typically diagnose autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by observing a person’s behavior and by leaning on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), widely considered the “bible” of mental health diagnosis. However, there are substantial differences amongst individuals on the spectrum and a great deal remains unknown by science about the causes of autism, or even what autism is. As a result, an accurate diagnosis of ASD and a prognosis prediction for patients can be extremely difficult. But what if artificial intelligence (AI) could help? Deep learning, a type of AI, deploys artificial neural networks based on the human brain to recognize patterns in a way that is akin to, and in some cases can surpass, human ability. The technique, or rather suite of techniques, has enjoyed remarkable success in recent years in fields as diverse as voice recognition, translation, autonomous vehicles, and drug discovery. A group of researchers from KAIST in collaboration with the Yonsei University College of Medicine has applied these deep learning techniques to autism diagnosis. Their findings were published on August 14 in the journal IEEE Access. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of brains of people known to have autism have been used by researchers and clinicians to try to identify structures of the brain they believed were associated with ASD. These researchers have achieved considerable success in identifying abnormal grey and white matter volume and irregularities in cerebral cortex activation and connections as being associated with the condition. These findings have subsequently been deployed in studies attempting more consistent diagnoses of patients than has been achieved via psychiatrist observations during counseling sessions. While such studies have reported high levels of diagnostic accuracy, the number of participants in these studies has been small, often under 50, and diagnostic performance drops markedly when applied to large sample sizes or on datasets that include people from a wide variety of populations and locations. “There was something as to what defines autism that human researchers and clinicians must have been overlooking,” said Keun-Ah Cheon, one of the two corresponding authors and a professor in Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Severance Hospital of the Yonsei University College of Medicine. “And humans poring over thousands of MRI scans won’t be able to pick up on what we’ve been missing,” she continued. “But we thought AI might be able to.” So the team applied five different categories of deep learning models to an open-source dataset of more than 1,000 MRI scans from the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE) initiative, which has collected brain imaging data from laboratories around the world, and to a smaller, but higher-resolution MRI image dataset (84 images) taken from the Child Psychiatric Clinic at Severance Hospital, Yonsei University College of Medicine. In both cases, the researchers used both structural MRIs (examining the anatomy of the brain) and functional MRIs (examining brain activity in different regions). The models allowed the team to explore the structural bases of ASD brain region by brain region, focusing in particular on many structures below the cerebral cortex, including the basal ganglia, which are involved in motor function (movement) as well as learning and memory. Crucially, these specific types of deep learning models also offered up possible explanations of how the AI had come up with its rationale for these findings. “Understanding the way that the AI has classified these brain structures and dynamics is extremely important,” said Sang Wan Lee, the other corresponding author and an associate professor at KAIST. “It’s no good if a doctor can tell a patient that the computer says they have autism, but not be able to say why the computer knows that.” The deep learning models were also able to describe how much a particular aspect contributed to ASD, an analysis tool that can assist psychiatric physicians during the diagnosis process to identify the severity of the autism. “Doctors should be able to use this to offer a personalized diagnosis for patients, including a prognosis of how the condition could develop,” Lee said. “Artificial intelligence is not going to put psychiatrists out of a job,” he explained. “But using AI as a tool should enable doctors to better understand and diagnose complex disorders than they could do on their own.” -Profile Professor Sang Wan Lee Department of Bio and Brain Engineering Laboratory for Brain and Machine Intelligence https://aibrain.kaist.ac.kr/ KAIST
Biomarker Predicts Who Will Have Severe COVID-19
- Airway cell analyses showing an activated immune axis could pinpoint the COVID-19 patients who will most benefit from targeted therapies.- KAIST researchers have identified key markers that could help pinpoint patients who are bound to get a severe reaction to COVID-19 infection. This would help doctors provide the right treatments at the right time, potentially saving lives. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology on August 28. People’s immune systems react differently to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, ranging from mild to severe, life-threatening responses. To understand the differences in responses, Professor Heung Kyu Lee and PhD candidate Jang Hyun Park from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST analysed ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequencing data extracted from individual airway cells of healthy controls and of mildly and severely ill patients with COVID-19. The data was available in a public database previously published by a group of Chinese researchers. “Our analyses identified an association between immune cells called neutrophils and special cell receptors that bind to the steroid hormone glucocorticoid,” Professor Lee explained. “This finding could be used as a biomarker for predicting disease severity in patients and thus selecting a targeted therapy that can help treat them at an appropriate time,” he added. Severe illness in COVID-19 is associated with an exaggerated immune response that leads to excessive airway-damaging inflammation. This condition, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), accounts for 70% of deaths in fatal COVID-19 infections. Scientists already know that this excessive inflammation involves heightened neutrophil recruitment to the airways, but the detailed mechanisms of this reaction are still unclear. Lee and Park’s analyses found that a group of immune cells called myeloid cells produced excess amounts of neutrophil-recruiting chemicals in severely ill patients, including a cytokine called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and a chemokine called CXCL8. Further RNA analyses of neutrophils in severely ill patients showed they were less able to recruit very important T cells needed for attacking the virus. At the same time, the neutrophils produced too many extracellular molecules that normally trap pathogens, but damage airway cells when produced in excess. The researchers additionally found that the airway cells in severely ill patients were not expressing enough glucocorticoid receptors. This was correlated with increased CXCL8 expression and neutrophil recruitment. Glucocorticoids, like the well-known drug dexamethasone, are anti-inflammatory agents that could play a role in treating COVID-19. However, using them in early or mild forms of the infection could suppress the necessary immune reactions to combat the virus. But if airway damage has already happened in more severe cases, glucocorticoid treatment would be ineffective. Knowing who to give this treatment to and when is really important. COVID-19 patients showing reduced glucocorticoid receptor expression, increased CXCL8 expression, and excess neutrophil recruitment to the airways could benefit from treatment with glucocorticoids to prevent airway damage. Further research is needed, however, to confirm the relationship between glucocorticoids and neutrophil inflammation at the protein level. “Our study could serve as a springboard towards more accurate and reliable COVID-19 treatments,” Professor Lee said. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea, and Mobile Clinic Module Project funded by KAIST. Figure. Low glucocorticoid receptor (GR) expression led to excessive inflammation and lung damage by neutrophils through enhancing the expression of CXCL8 and other cytokines. Image credit: Professor Heung Kyu Lee, KAIST. Created with Biorender.com. Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute these figures and image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Jang Hyun Park, and Heung Kyu Lee. (2020). Re-analysis of Single Cell Transcriptome Reveals That the NR3C1-CXCL8-Neutrophil Axis Determines the Severity of COVID-19. Frontiers in Immunology, Available online at https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.02145 Profile: Heung Kyu Lee Associate Professor email@example.com https://www.heungkyulee.kaist.ac.kr/ Laboratory of Host Defenses Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering (GSMSE) The Center for Epidemic Preparedness at KAIST Institute http://kaist.ac.kr Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Daejeon, Republic of Korea Profile: Jang Hyun Park PhD Candidate firstname.lastname@example.org GSMSE, KAIST (END)
Sturdy Fabric-Based Piezoelectric Energy Harvester Takes Us One Step Closer to Wearable Electronics
KAIST researchers presented a highly flexible but sturdy wearable piezoelectric harvester using the simple and easy fabrication process of hot pressing and tape casting. This energy harvester, which has record high interfacial adhesion strength, will take us one step closer to being able to manufacture embedded wearable electronics. A research team led by Professor Seungbum Hong said that the novelty of this result lies in its simplicity, applicability, durability, and its new characterization of wearable electronic devices. Wearable devices are increasingly being used in a wide array of applications from small electronics to embedded devices such as sensors, actuators, displays, and energy harvesters. Despite their many advantages, high costs and complex fabrication processes remained challenges for reaching commercialization. In addition, their durability was frequently questioned. To address these issues, Professor Hong’s team developed a new fabrication process and analysis technology for testing the mechanical properties of affordable wearable devices. For this process, the research team used a hot pressing and tape casting procedure to connect the fabric structures of polyester and a polymer film. Hot pressing has usually been used when making batteries and fuel cells due to its high adhesiveness. Above all, the process takes only two to three minutes. The newly developed fabrication process will enable the direct application of a device into general garments using hot pressing just as graphic patches can be attached to garments using a heat press. In particular, when the polymer film is hot pressed onto a fabric below its crystallization temperature, it transforms into an amorphous state. In this state, it compactly attaches to the concave surface of the fabric and infiltrates into the gaps between the transverse wefts and longitudinal warps. These features result in high interfacial adhesion strength. For this reason, hot pressing has the potential to reduce the cost of fabrication through the direct application of fabric-based wearable devices to common garments. In addition to the conventional durability test of bending cycles, the newly introduced surface and interfacial cutting analysis system proved the high mechanical durability of the fabric-based wearable device by measuring the high interfacial adhesion strength between the fabric and the polymer film. Professor Hong said the study lays a new foundation for the manufacturing process and analysis of wearable devices using fabrics and polymers. He added that his team first used the surface and interfacial cutting analysis system (SAICAS) in the field of wearable electronics to test the mechanical properties of polymer-based wearable devices. Their surface and interfacial cutting analysis system is more precise than conventional methods (peel test, tape test, and microstretch test) because it qualitatively and quantitatively measures the adhesion strength. Professor Hong explained, “This study could enable the commercialization of highly durable wearable devices based on the analysis of their interfacial adhesion strength. Our study lays a new foundation for the manufacturing process and analysis of other devices using fabrics and polymers. We look forward to fabric-based wearable electronics hitting the market very soon.” The results of this study were registered as a domestic patent in Korea last year, and published in Nano Energy this month. This study has been conducted through collaboration with Professor Yong Min Lee in the Department of Energy Science and Engineering at DGIST, Professor Kwangsoo No in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST, and Professor Seunghwa Ryu in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KAIST. This study was supported by the High-Risk High-Return Project and the Global Singularity Research Project at KAIST, the National Research Foundation, and the Ministry of Science and ICT in Korea. -Publication: Jaegyu Kim, Seoungwoo Byun, Sangryun Lee, Jeongjae Ryu, Seongwoo Cho, Chungik Oh, Hongjun Kim, Kwangsoo No, Seunghwa Ryu, Yong Min Lee, Seungbum Hong*, Nano Energy 75 (2020), 104992. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nanoen.2020.104992 -Profile: Professor Seungbum Hong email@example.com http://mii.kaist.ac.kr/ Department of Materials Science and Engineering KAIST
Advanced NVMe Controller Technology for Next Generation Memory Devices
KAIST researchers advanced non-volatile memory express (NVMe) controller technology for next generation information storage devices, and made this new technology named ‘OpenExpress’ freely available to all universities and research institutes around the world to help reduce the research cost in related fields. NVMe is a communication protocol made for high-performance storage devices based on a peripheral component interconnect-express (PCI-E) interface. NVMe has been developed to take the place of the Serial AT Attachment (SATA) protocol, which was developed to process data on hard disk drives (HDDs) and did not perform well in solid state drives (SSDs). Unlike HDDs that use magnetic spinning disks, SSDs use semiconductor memory, allowing the rapid reading and writing of data. SSDs also generate less heat and noise, and are much more compact and lightweight. Since data processing in SSDs using NVMe is up to six times faster than when SATA is used, NVMe has become the standard protocol for ultra-high speed and volume data processing, and is currently used in many flash-based information storage devices. Studies on NVMe continue at both the academic and industrial levels, however, its poor accessibility is a drawback. Major information and communications technology (ICT) companies around the world expend astronomical costs to procure intellectual property (IP) related to hardware NVMe controllers, necessary for the use of NVMe. However, such IP is not publicly disclosed, making it difficult to be used by universities and research institutes for research purposes. Although a small number of U.S. Silicon Valley startups provide parts of their independently developed IP for research, the cost of usage is around 34,000 USD per month. The costs skyrocket even further because each copy of single-use source code purchased for IP modification costs approximately 84,000 USD. In order to address these issues, a group of researchers led by Professor Myoungsoo Jung from the School of Electrical Engineering at KAIST developed a next generation NVMe controller technology that achieved parallel data input/output processing for SSDs in a fully hardware automated form. The researchers presented their work at the 2020 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC ’20) in July, and released it as an open research framework named ‘OpenExpress.’ This NVMe controller technology developed by Professor Jung’s team comprises a wide range of basic hardware IP and key NVMe IP cores. To examine its actual performance, the team made an NVMe hardware controller prototype using OpenExpress, and designed all logics provided by OpenExpress to operate at high frequency. The field-programmable gate array (FPGA) memory card prototype developed using OpenExpress demonstrated increased input/output data processing capacity per second, supporting up to 7 gigabit per second (GB/s) bandwidth. This makes it suitable for ultra-high speed and volume next generation memory device research. In a test comparing various storage server loads on devices, the team’s FPGA also showed 76% higher bandwidth and 68% lower input/output delay compared to Intel’s new high performance SSD (Optane SSD), which is sufficient for many researchers studying systems employing future memory devices. Depending on user needs, silicon devices can be synthesized as well, which is expected to further enhance performance. The NVMe controller technology of Professor Jung’s team can be freely used and modified under the OpenExpress open-source end-user agreement for non-commercial use by all universities and research institutes. This makes it extremely useful for research on next-generation memory compatible NVMe controllers and software stacks. “With the product of this study being disclosed to the world, universities and research institutes can now use controllers that used to be exclusive for only the world’s biggest companies, at no cost,ˮ said Professor Jung. He went on to stress, “This is a meaningful first step in research of information storage device systems such as high-speed and volume next generation memory.” This work was supported by a grant from MemRay, a company specializing in next generation memory development and distribution. More details about the study can be found at http://camelab.org. Image credit: Professor Myoungsoo Jung, KAIST Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute these figures and image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Myoungsoo Jung. (2020). OpenExpress: Fully Hardware Automated Open Research Framework for Future Fast NVMe Devices. Presented in the Proceedings of the 2020 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC ’20), Available online at https://www.usenix.org/system/files/atc20-jung.pdf Profile: Myoungsoo Jung, PhD. Associate Professor firstname.lastname@example.org http://camelab.org Computer Architecture and Memory Systems Laboratory School of Electrical Engineering http://kaist.ac.kr Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Daejeon, Republic of Korea (END)
Before Eyes Open, They Get Ready to See
- Spontaneous retinal waves can generate long-range horizontal connectivity in visual cortex. - A KAIST research team’s computational simulations demonstrated that the waves of spontaneous neural activity in the retinas of still-closed eyes in mammals develop long-range horizontal connections in the visual cortex during early developmental stages. This new finding featured in the August 19 edition of Journal of Neuroscience as a cover article has resolved a long-standing puzzle for understanding visual neuroscience regarding the early organization of functional architectures in the mammalian visual cortex before eye-opening, especially the long-range horizontal connectivity known as “feature-specific” circuitry. To prepare the animal to see when its eyes open, neural circuits in the brain’s visual system must begin developing earlier. However, the proper development of many brain regions involved in vision generally requires sensory input through the eyes. In the primary visual cortex of the higher mammalian taxa, cortical neurons of similar functional tuning to a visual feature are linked together by long-range horizontal circuits that play a crucial role in visual information processing. Surprisingly, these long-range horizontal connections in the primary visual cortex of higher mammals emerge before the onset of sensory experience, and the mechanism underlying this phenomenon has remained elusive. To investigate this mechanism, a group of researchers led by Professor Se-Bum Paik from the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering at KAIST implemented computational simulations of early visual pathways using data obtained from the retinal circuits in young animals before eye-opening, including cats, monkeys, and mice. From these simulations, the researchers found that spontaneous waves propagating in ON and OFF retinal mosaics can initialize the wiring of long-range horizontal connections by selectively co-activating cortical neurons of similar functional tuning, whereas equivalent random activities cannot induce such organizations. The simulations also showed that emerged long-range horizontal connections can induce the patterned cortical activities, matching the topography of underlying functional maps even in salt-and-pepper type organizations observed in rodents. This result implies that the model developed by Professor Paik and his group can provide a universal principle for the developmental mechanism of long-range horizontal connections in both higher mammals as well as rodents. Professor Paik said, “Our model provides a deeper understanding of how the functional architectures in the visual cortex can originate from the spatial organization of the periphery, without sensory experience during early developmental periods.” He continued, “We believe that our findings will be of great interest to scientists working in a wide range of fields such as neuroscience, vision science, and developmental biology.” This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF). Undergraduate student Jinwoo Kim participated in this research project and presented the findings as the lead author as part of the Undergraduate Research Participation (URP) Program at KAIST. Figures and image credit: Professor Se-Bum Paik, KAIST Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute these figures and image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Jinwoo Kim, Min Song, and Se-Bum Paik. (2020). Spontaneous retinal waves generate long-range horizontal connectivity in visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, Available online athttps://www.jneurosci.org/content/early/2020/07/17/JNEUROSCI.0649-20.2020 Profile: Se-Bum Paik Assistant Professor email@example.com http://vs.kaist.ac.kr/ VSNN Laboratory Department of Bio and Brain Engineering Program of Brain and Cognitive Engineering http://kaist.ac.kr Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Daejeon, Republic of Korea Profile: Jinwoo Kim Undergraduate Student firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Bio and Brain Engineering, KAIST Profile: Min Song Ph.D. Candidate email@example.com Program of Brain and Cognitive Engineering, KAIST (END)
Microscopy Approach Poised to Offer New Insights into Liver Diseases
Researchers have developed a new way to visualize the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in mouse models of the disease. The new microscopy method provides a high-resolution 3D view that could lead to important new insights into NAFLD, a condition in which too much fat is stored in the liver. “It is estimated that a quarter of the adult global population has NAFLD, yet an effective treatment strategy has not been found,” said professor Pilhan Kim from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST. “NAFLD is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes and can sometimes progress to liver failure in serious case.” In the Optical Society (OSA) journal Biomedical Optics Express, Professor Kim and colleagues reported their new imaging technique and showed that it can be used to observe how tiny droplets of fat, or lipids, accumulate in the liver cells of living mice over time. “It has been challenging to find a treatment strategy for NAFLD because most studies examine excised liver tissue that represents just one timepoint in disease progression,” said Professor Kim. “Our technique can capture details of lipid accumulation over time, providing a highly useful research tool for identifying the multiple parameters that likely contribute to the disease and could be targeted with treatment.” Capturing the dynamics of NAFLD in living mouse models of the disease requires the ability to observe quickly changing interactions of biological components in intact tissue in real-time. To accomplish this, the researchers developed a custom intravital confocal and two-photon microscopy system that acquires images of multiple fluorescent labels at video-rate with cellular resolution. “With video-rate imaging capability, the continuous movement of liver tissue in live mice due to breathing and heart beating could be tracked in real time and precisely compensated,” said Professor Kim. “This provided motion-artifact free high-resolution images of cellular and sub-cellular sized individual lipid droplets.” The key to fast imaging was a polygonal mirror that rotated at more than 240 miles per hour to provide extremely fast laser scanning. The researchers also incorporated four different lasers and four high-sensitivity optical detectors into the setup so that they could acquire multi-color images to capture different color fluorescent probes used to label the lipid droplets and microvasculature in the livers of live mice. “Our approach can capture real-time changes in cell behavior and morphology, vascular structure and function, and the spatiotemporal localization of biological components while directly visualizing of lipid droplet development in NAFLD progression,” said Professor Kim. “It also allows the analysis of the highly complex behaviors of various immune cells as NAFLD progresses.” The researchers demonstrated their approach by using it to observe the development and spatial distribution of lipid droplets in individual mice with NAFLD induced by a methionine and choline-deficient diet. Next, they plan to use it to study how the liver microenvironment changes during NAFLD progression by imaging the same mouse over time. They also want to use their microscope technique to visualize various immune cells and lipid droplets to better understand the complex liver microenvironment in NAFLD progression.
Deep Learning-Based Cough Recognition Model Helps Detect the Location of Coughing Sounds in Real Time
The Center for Noise and Vibration Control at KAIST announced that their coughing detection camera recognizes where coughing happens, visualizing the locations. The resulting cough recognition camera can track and record information about the person who coughed, their location, and the number of coughs on a real-time basis. Professor Yong-Hwa Park from the Department of Mechanical Engineering developed a deep learning-based cough recognition model to classify a coughing sound in real time. The coughing event classification model is combined with a sound camera that visualizes their locations in public places. The research team said they achieved a best test accuracy of 87.4 %. Professor Park said that it will be useful medical equipment during epidemics in public places such as schools, offices, and restaurants, and to constantly monitor patients’ conditions in a hospital room. Fever and coughing are the most relevant respiratory disease symptoms, among which fever can be recognized remotely using thermal cameras. This new technology is expected to be very helpful for detecting epidemic transmissions in a non-contact way. The cough event classification model is combined with a sound camera that visualizes the cough event and indicates the location in the video image. To develop a cough recognition model, a supervised learning was conducted with a convolutional neural network (CNN). The model performs binary classification with an input of a one-second sound profile feature, generating output to be either a cough event or something else. In the training and evaluation, various datasets were collected from Audioset, DEMAND, ETSI, and TIMIT. Coughing and others sounds were extracted from Audioset, and the rest of the datasets were used as background noises for data augmentation so that this model could be generalized for various background noises in public places. The dataset was augmented by mixing coughing sounds and other sounds from Audioset and background noises with the ratio of 0.15 to 0.75, then the overall volume was adjusted to 0.25 to 1.0 times to generalize the model for various distances. The training and evaluation datasets were constructed by dividing the augmented dataset by 9:1, and the test dataset was recorded separately in a real office environment. In the optimization procedure of the network model, training was conducted with various combinations of five acoustic features including spectrogram, Mel-scaled spectrogram and Mel-frequency cepstrum coefficients with seven optimizers. The performance of each combination was compared with the test dataset. The best test accuracy of 87.4% was achieved with Mel-scaled Spectrogram as the acoustic feature and ASGD as the optimizer. The trained cough recognition model was combined with a sound camera. The sound camera is composed of a microphone array and a camera module. A beamforming process is applied to a collected set of acoustic data to find out the direction of incoming sound source. The integrated cough recognition model determines whether the sound is cough or not. If it is, the location of cough is visualized as a contour image with a ‘cough’ label at the location of the coughing sound source in a video image. A pilot test of the cough recognition camera in an office environment shows that it successfully distinguishes cough events and other events even in a noisy environment. In addition, it can track the location of the person who coughed and count the number of coughs in real time. The performance will be improved further with additional training data obtained from other real environments such as hospitals and classrooms. Professor Park said, “In a pandemic situation like we are experiencing with COVID-19, a cough detection camera can contribute to the prevention and early detection of epidemics in public places. Especially when applied to a hospital room, the patient's condition can be tracked 24 hours a day and support more accurate diagnoses while reducing the effort of the medical staff." This study was conducted in collaboration with SM Instruments Inc. Profile: Yong-Hwa Park, Ph.D. Associate Professor firstname.lastname@example.org http://human.kaist.ac.kr/ Human-Machine Interaction Laboratory (HuMaN Lab.) Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) https://www.kaist.ac.kr/en/ Daejeon 34141, Korea Profile: Gyeong Tae Lee PhD Candidate email@example.com HuMaN Lab., ME, KAIST Profile: Seong Hu Kim PhD Candidate firstname.lastname@example.org HuMaN Lab., ME, KAIST Profile: Hyeonuk Nam PhD Candidate email@example.com HuMaN Lab., ME, KAIST Profile: Young-Key Kim CEO firstname.lastname@example.org http://en.smins.co.kr/ SM Instruments Inc. Daejeon 34109, Korea (END)
Sulfur-Containing Polymer Generates High Refractive Index and Transparency
Transparent polymer thin film with refractive index exceeding 1.9 to serve as new platform materials for high-end optical device applications Researchers reported a novel technology enhancing the high transparency of refractive polymer film via a one-step vapor deposition process. The sulfur-containing polymer (SCP) film produced by Professor Sung Gap Im’s research team at KAIST’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering has exhibited excellent environmental stability and chemical resistance, which is highly desirable for its application in long-term optical device applications. The high refractive index exceeding 1.9 while being fully transparent in the entire visible range will help expand the applications of optoelectronic devices. The refractive index is a ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the phase velocity of light in a material, used as a measure of how much the path of light is bent when passing through a material. With the miniaturization of various optical parts used in mobile devices and imaging, demand has been rapidly growing for high refractive index transparent materials that induce more light refraction with a thin film. As polymers have outstanding physical properties and can be easily processed in various forms, they are widely used in a variety of applications such as plastic eyeglass lenses. However, there have been very few polymers developed so far with a refractive index exceeding 1.75, and existing high refractive index polymers require costly materials and complicated manufacturing processes. Above all, core technologies for producing such materials have been dominated by Japanese companies, causing long-standing challenges for Korean manufacturers. Securing a stable supply of high-performance, high refractive index materials is crucial for the production of optical devices that are lighter, more affordable, and can be freely manipulated. The research team successfully manufactured a whole new polymer thin film material with a refractive index exceeding 1.9 and excellent transparency, using just a one-step chemical reaction. The SCP film showed outstanding optical transparency across the entire visible light region, presumably due to the uniformly dispersed, short-segment polysulfide chains, which is a distinct feature unachievable in polymerizations with molten sulfur. The team focused on the fact that elemental sulfur is easily sublimated to produce a high refractive index polymer by polymerizing the vaporized sulfur with a variety of substances. This method suppresses the formation of overly long S-S chains while achieving outstanding thermal stability in high sulfur concentrations and generating transparent non-crystalline polymers across the entire visible spectrum. Due to the characteristics of the vapor phase process, the high refractive index thin film can be coated not just on silicon wafers or glass substrates, but on a wide range of textured surfaces as well. We believe this thin film polymer is the first to have achieved an ultrahigh refractive index exceeding 1.9. Professor Im said, “This high-performance polymer film can be created in a simple one-step manner, which is highly advantageous in the synthesis of SCPs with a high refractive index. This will serve as a platform material for future high-end optical device applications.” This study, in collaboration with research teams from Seoul National University and Kyung Hee University, was reported in Science Advances. (Title: One-Step Vapor-Phase Synthesis of Transparent High-Refractive Index Sulfur-Containing Polymers） This research was supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT’s Global Frontier Project (Center for Advanced Soft-Electronics), Leading Research Center Support Program (Wearable Platform Materials Technology Center), and Basic Science Research Program (Advanced Research Project).
Tinkering with Roundworm Proteins Offers Hope for Anti-aging Drugs
- The somatic nuclear protein kinase VRK-1 increases the worm’s lifespan through AMPK activation, and this mechanism can be applied to promoting human longevity, the study reveals. - KAIST researchers have been able to dial up and down creatures’ lifespans by altering the activity of proteins found in roundworm cells that tell them to convert sugar into energy when their cellular energy is running low. Humans also have these proteins, offering up the intriguing possibilities for developing longevity-promoting drugs. These new findings were published on July 1 in Science Advances. The roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a millimeter-long nematode commonly used in lab testing, enjoyed a boost in its lifespan when researchers tinkered with a couple of proteins involved in monitoring the energy use by its cells. The proteins VRK-1 and AMPK work in tandem in roundworm cells, with the former telling the latter to get to work by sticking a phosphate molecule, composed of one phosphorus and four oxygen atoms, on it. In turn, AMPK’s role is to monitor energy levels in cells, when cellular energy is running low. In essence, VRK-1 regulates AMPK, and AMPK regulates the cellular energy status. Using a range of different biological research tools, including introducing foreign genes into the worm, a group of researchers led by Professor Seung-Jae V. Lee from the Department of Biological Sciences at KAIST were able to dial up and down the activity of the gene that tells cells to produce the VRK-1 protein. This gene has remained pretty much unchanged throughout evolution. Most complex organisms have this same gene, including humans. Lead author of the study Sangsoon Park and his colleagues confirmed that the overexpression, or increased production, of the VRK-1 protein boosted the lifespan of the C. elegans, which normally lives just two to three weeks, and the inhibition of VRK-1 production reduced its lifespan. The research team found that the activity of the VRK-1-to-AMPK cellular-energy monitoring process is increased in low cellular energy status by reduced mitochondrial respiration, the set of metabolic chemical reactions that make use of the oxygen the worm breathes to convert macronutrients from food into the energy “currency” that cells spend to do everything they need to do. It is already known that mitochondria, the energy-producing engine rooms in cells, play a crucial role in aging, and declines in the functioning of mitochondria are associated with age-related diseases. At the same time, the mild inhibition of mitochondrial respiration has been shown to promote longevity in a range of species, including flies and mammals. When the research team performed similar tinkering with cultured human cells, they found they could also replicate this ramping up and down of the VRK-1-to-AMPK process that occurs in roundworms. “This raises the intriguing possibility that VRK-1 also functions as a factor in governing human longevity, and so perhaps we can start developing longevity-promoting drugs that alter the activity of VRK-1,” explained Professor Lee. At the very least, the research points us in an interesting direction for investigating new therapeutic strategies to combat metabolic disorders by targeting the modulation of VRK-1. Metabolic disorders involve the disruption of chemical reactions in the body, including diseases of the mitochondria. But before metabolic disorder therapeutics or longevity drugs can be contemplated by scientists, further research still needs to be carried out to better understand how VRK-1 works to activate AMPK, as well as figure out the precise mechanics of how AMPK controls cellular energy. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), and the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) of Korea. Image credit: Seung-Jae V. LEE, KAIST. Image usage restrictions: News organizations may use or redistribute this image, with proper attribution, as part of news coverage of this paper only. Publication: Park, S., et al. (2020) ‘VRK-1 extends life span by activation of AMPK via phosphorylation’. Science Advances, Volume 6. No. 27, eaaw7824. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw7824 Profile: Seung-Jae V. Lee, Ph.D. Professor email@example.com https://sites.google.com/view/mgakaist Molecular Genetics of Aging Laboratory Department of Biological Sciences Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) https://www.kaist.ac.krDaejeon 34141, Korea (END)
‘SoundWear’ a Heads-Up Sound Augmentation Gadget Helps Expand Children’s Play Experience
In this digital era, there has been growing concern that children spend most of their playtime watching TV, playing computer games, and staring at mobile phones with ‘head-down’ posture even outdoors. To counter such concerns, KAIST researchers designed a wearable bracelet using sound augmentation to leverage play benefits by employing digital technology. The research team also investigated how sound influences children’s play experiences according to their physical, social, and imaginative aspects. Playing is a large part of enjoyable and rewarding lives, especially for children. Previously, a large part of children’s playtime used to take place outdoors, and playing outdoors has long been praised for playing an essential role in providing opportunities to perform physical activity, improve social skills, and boost imaginative thinking. Motivated by these concerns, a KAIST research team led by Professor Woohun Lee and his researcher Jiwoo Hong from the Department of Industrial Design made use of sound augmentation, which is beneficial for motivating playful experiences by facilitating imagination and enhancing social awareness with its ambient and omnidirectional characteristics. Despite the beneficial characteristics of sound augmentation, only a few studies have explored sound interaction as a technology to augment outdoor play due to its abstractness when conveying information in an open space outdoors. There is also a lack of empirical evidence regarding its effect on children's play experiences. Professor Lee’s team designed and implemented an original bracelet-type wearable device called SoundWear. This device uses non-speech sound as a core digital feature for children to broaden their imaginations and improvise their outdoor games. Children equipped with SoundWear were allowed to explore multiple sounds (i.e., everyday and instrumental sounds) on SoundPalette, pick a desired sound, generate the sound with a swinging movement, and transfer the sound between multiple devices for their outdoor play. Both the quantitative and qualitative results of a user study indicated that augmenting playtime with everyday sounds triggered children’s imagination and resulted in distinct play behaviors, whereas instrumental sounds were transparently integrated with existing outdoor games while fully preserving play benefits in physical, social, and imaginative ways. The team also found that the gestural interaction of SoundWear and the free sound choice on SoundPalette helped children to gain a sense of achievement and ownership toward sound. This led children to be physically and socially active while playing. PhD candidate Hong said, “Our work can encourage the discussion on using digital technology that entails sound augmentation and gestural interactions for understanding and cultivating creative improvisations, social pretenses, and ownership of digital materials in digitally augmented play experiences.” Professor Lee also envisioned that the findings being helpful to parents and educators saying, “I hope the verified effect of digital technology on children’s play informs parents and educators to help them make more informed decisions and incorporate the playful and creative usage of new media, such as mobile phones and smart toys, for young children.” This research titled “SoundWear: Effect of Non-speech Sound Augmentation on the Outdoor Play Experience of Children” was presented at DIS 2020 (the ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems) taking place virtually in Eindhoven, Netherlands, from July 6 to 20. This work received an Honorable Mention Award for being in the top 5% of all the submissions to the conference. Publication: Hong, J., et al. (2020) ‘SoundWear: Effect of Non-speech Sound Augmentation on the Outdoor Play Experience of Children’. Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS'20), Pages 2201-2213. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1145/3357236.3395541 Profile: Professor Woohun Leewoohun.firstname.lastname@example.org://wonderlab.kaist.ac.kr Department of Industrial Design (ID) KAIST
Atomic Force Microscopy Reveals Nanoscale Dental Erosion from Beverages
KAIST researchers used atomic force microscopy to quantitatively evaluate how acidic and sugary drinks affect human tooth enamel at the nanoscale level. This novel approach is useful for measuring mechanical and morphological changes that occur over time during enamel erosion induced by beverages. Enamel is the hard-white substance that forms the outer part of a tooth. It is the hardest substance in the human body, even stronger than bone. Its resilient surface is 96 percent mineral, the highest percentage of any body tissue, making it durable and damage-resistant. The enamel acts as a barrier to protect the soft inner layers of the tooth, but can become susceptible to degradation by acids and sugars. Enamel erosion occurs when the tooth enamel is overexposed to excessive consumption of acidic and sugary food and drinks. The loss of enamel, if left untreated, can lead to various tooth conditions including stains, fractures, sensitivity, and translucence. Once tooth enamel is damaged, it cannot be brought back. Therefore, thorough studies on how enamel erosion starts and develops, especially at the initial stages, are of high scientific and clinical relevance for dental health maintenance. A research team led by Professor Seungbum Hong from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST reported a new method of applying atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques to study the nanoscale characterization of this early stage of enamel erosion. This study was introduced in the Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials (JMBBM) on June 29. AFM is a very-high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy (SPM), with demonstrated resolution on the order of fractions of a nanometer (nm) that is equal to one billionth of a meter. AFM generates images by scanning a small cantilever over the surface of a sample, and this can precisely measure the structure and mechanical properties of the sample, such as surface roughness and elastic modulus. The co-lead authors of the study, Dr. Panpan Li and Dr. Chungik Oh, chose three commercially available popular beverages, Coca-Cola®, Sprite®, and Minute Maid® orange juice, and immersed tooth enamel in these drinks over time to analyze their impacts on human teeth and monitor the etching process on tooth enamel. Five healthy human molars were obtained from volunteers between age 20 and 35 who visited the KAIST Clinic. After extraction, the teeth were preserved in distilled water before the experiment. The drinks were purchased and opened right before the immersion experiment, and the team utilized AFM to measure the surface topography and elastic modulus map. The researchers observed that the surface roughness of the tooth enamel increased significantly as the immersion time increased, while the elastic modulus of the enamel surface decreased drastically. It was demonstrated that the enamel surface roughened five times more when it was immersed in beverages for 10 minutes, and that the elastic modulus of tooth enamel was five times lower after five minutes in the drinks. Additionally, the research team found preferential etching in scratched tooth enamel. Brushing your teeth too hard and toothpastes with polishing particles that are advertised to remove dental biofilms can cause scratches on the enamel surface, which can be preferential sites for etching, the study revealed. Professor Hong said, “Our study shows that AFM is a suitable technique to characterize variations in the morphology and mechanical properties of dental erosion quantitatively at the nanoscale level.” This work was supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), and the KUSTAR-KAIST Institute of Korea. A dentist at the KAIST Clinic, Dr. Suebean Cho, Dr. Sangmin Shin from the Smile Well Dental, and Professor Kack-Kyun Kim at the Seoul National University School of Dentistry also collaborated in this project. Publication: Li, P., et al. (2020) ‘Nanoscale effects of beverages on enamel surface of human teeth: An atomic force microscopy study’. Journal of the Mechanical Behavior of Biomedical Materials (JMBBM), Volume 110. Article No. 103930. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmbbm.2020.103930 Profile: Seungbum Hong, Ph.D. Associate Professor email@example.com http://mii.kaist.ac.kr/ Materials Imaging and Integration (MII) Lab. Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) https://www.kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea (END)
Study Finds Interferon Triggers Inflammation in Severe COVID-19
KAIST medical scientists and their colleagues confirmed that the type I interferon response plays a pivotal role in exacerbating inflammation in severe COVID-19 cases. Severe COVID-19 has been shown to be caused by a hyper-inflammatory response. Particularly, inflammatory cytokines secreted by classical monocytes and macrophages are believed to play a crucial role in the severe progression of COVID-19. A new single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of more than 59,000 cells from three different patient cohorts provided a detailed look at patients’ immune responses in severe cases of COVID-19. The results suggest that patients with severe cases of COVID-19 experience increased regulation of the type I interferon (IFN-I) inflammation-triggering pathway, a signature that the researchers also observed in patients hospitalized with severe cases of influenza. Their findings suggest that anti-inflammatory treatment strategies for COVID-19 should also be aimed toward the IFN-I signaling pathway, in addition to targeting inflammatory molecules such as TNF, IL-1, and IL-6, which have been associated with COVID-19. The research team under Professor Eui-Cheol Shin from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering sequenced the RNA from a total of 59,572 blood cells obtained from four healthy donors, eight patients with mild or severe COVID-19, and five patients with severe influenza. By comparison, patients with severe cases of influenza showed increased expression of various IFN-stimulated genes, but did not experience TNF/IL-1 responses as seen in COVID-19 patients. Unlike the flu cohort, patients in the severe COVID-19 cohort exhibited the IFN-I signature concurrently with TNF/IL-1-driven inflammation – a combination also not seen in patients with milder cases of COVID-19. Their result, along with past mouse studies that highlight how the timing of IFN-I expression is critical to determining the outcome of SARS, support targeting IFN-I as a potential treatment strategy for severe COVID-19. Professor Shin said, “This research provides insights for designing therapeutic options for COVID-19 by investigating very closely how the immune cells of COVDI-19 patients develop. We will continue to conduct research on novel therapeutic immune mechanisms and target therapeutic anti-inflammatory medication to improve the survival of severe COVID-19 patients.” This study, conducted in collaboration with Severance Hospital at Yonsei University, Asan Medical Center, and Chungbuk National University, was featured in Science Immunology on July 10. This work was funded by Samsung Science and Technology Foundation and SUHF Fellowship. -PublicationScience Immunology 10 Jul 2020:Vol. 5, Issue 49, eabd1554DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abd1554 -ProfileProfessorEui-Cheol ShinGraduate School of Medical Science and EngineeringLaboratory of Immunology & Infectious Diseases (http://liid.kaist.ac.kr/)firstname.lastname@example.orgKAIST
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